Seven Tips On Bird Identification
District Naturalist Ron Skleney lists some tips on bird identification based on a guide written by Kevin Karlson titled "Birding By Impression."
For more background on "Birding By Impression," visit www.kevinkarlsonphotography.com.
1. Size: How is it relative to what you know?
Sparrow? Robin? Crow? Hawk?
2. Shape and Structure:
- Look at body configuration: Fat and dumpy or slender and tapered?
- Bill shape and length
- Leg length
- Wing-to-tail ratio and comparison
Develop a verbal shorthand to describe shape. For instance:
“Fat & dumpy with a short stubby bill” or “Slim & tapered with medium length, dark legs”
3. Behavior: How does it feed, walk, fly or react to danger?
Let’s compare the behavior of a nuthatch versus a brown creeper. Both birds feed by creeping along the sides of trees. The nuthatch feeds by flying to a higher point on the tree trunk and working its way down. The brown creeper feeds by flying to a low point on the trunk and working its way up. By understanding the behavior of these two birds you are able to narrow your ID possibilities.
4. Habitat: Some birds are rarely found away from their preferred habitats. Note the habitat a bird is using when you are in the field. (But…remember, migrating birds may be forced to use uncharacteristic habitats.)
5. Overall Coloration: This refers to the general color of first impression. This is not referring to field marks. Examples: 1) the flash of yellow you see when you spot a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker in flight or 2) the orange-red chest of a cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk helps to identify one of these adult accipiters.
6. Vocalizations: If you really want to bring your ID skills up a notch, start learning bird calls and songs.
7. Comparisons with Nearby Birds: When trying to separate identifications, direct comparisons with birds nearby can be your “ace in the hole.”